Lots of rumors and reports have been flying around the Pittsburgh Penguins regarding the ongoing negotiations with Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin. NHL free agency starts in just two weeks on July 13th and there was been very few updates from official sources. Brian Burke finally gave one today on the Jeff Marek show in one of the rare instances of someone with the team talking on the recod.
“We want to sign both players...but they gotta come back at term and contract dollars that make sense,” Penguins president of hockey operations Brian Burke said on The Jeff Marek Show. “And if not, they’re not coming back.
“We should know I’m guessing in the next little bit. We’ve made determined efforts to meet with and to sign Kris Letang. Less determined with Malkin only because we have to know how much money we have to work with and we have to put this jigsaw puzzle together. So very direct discussions with the agent for Evgeni Malkin but less intense.
“There’s gotta be some sequence here. One has to sign and then the other or maybe neither of them. But it’s coming to a head soon.”
Yesterday, Josh Yohe at The Athletic added some details that added to some general pieces that fit with earlier reports. According to Yohe, Letang’s camp is seeking a five year deal worth “something north of $8 million per year annually, perhaps as high as $9 million”. The Penguins have only offered Letang a three year extension, the reporting also mentioned.
Added to talk from Elliotte Friedman that the Pens and Letang were $1.25 million apart puts a team offer in the neighborhood of Letang’s previous cap hit ($7.25 million) but the sticking point remains what would be over Letang’s age-38 and age-39 seasons on the fourth and fifth years that the player’s side is seeking.
When Burke says, “they gotta come back at term and contract dollars that make sense,” it is a clear point that the Penguins don’t see paying a huge cap hit for those advanced years as making sense for the team, because they simply can’t bring both back at any price AND find a new backup goalie AND add a top-six forward AND add two lower-line forwards with what remains.
Burke directly says what has been mentioned time and again from other source: that Letang’s negotiations have been more on the front-burner and more “intense”. Yohe’s reporting about Malkin is much more pessimistic — it has been out there that the term of three years is agreeable to both sides. But the money debate has become a major difference, with the sides far apart. Unlike Letang’s talks, there have not been many reports about where they sit.
It’s a tricky puzzle for the Penguins to put together, and one they haven’t been able to figure out just yet. They have limited operating room to get aging players back for prices that are potentially too high for the value they will provide in these years.
Deadlines can drive a compromise if both sides are willing, but it remains to be seen what common ground can be found with fundamental differences that exist. Stances can change at a moment’s notice to get a breakthrough but after all this time no such breakthrough has happened as the deadline approaches.
As Burke said, time is now becoming of the essence.